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FDA’s war on kratom could worsen opioid crisis

Some scientists and advocates of kratom believe the drug is safer than opioid drugs sold in pharmacies and can help fight the pains and symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

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A group of scientists believes the plant-based drug kratom is a safer alternative to prescriptions, especially opioids, but the FDA is cracking down on kratom use.

Kratom is derived from leaves of a Southeast Asian tree related to coffee and is usually sold in the form of a tea or powder. The drug is not an opioid but its active ingredients mimic some of the effects of opioids, such as euphoria, and has been known to help with chronic pain, anxiety and depression.

“Taken in total, the scientific evidence we’ve evaluated about kratom provides a clear picture of the biologic effect of this substance,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids. There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use.”

The FDA is attempting to make this drug a Schedule 1 drug, which would mean scientists would be unable to study its effects.

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Some scientists and advocates of kratom believe the drug is safer than opioid drugs sold in pharmacies and can help fight the pains and symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States. The majority of drug overdose deaths (66%) involve an opioid. In 2016, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) was 5 times higher than in 1999. From 2000 to 2016, more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses. On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 16-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. The amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, yet there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported. Deaths from prescription opioids – drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone – have more than quadrupled since 1999.

“The available science is clear that kratom, although having effects on opioid receptors in the brain, is distinct from classical opioids (e.g. morphine, heroin, oxycodone, etc.) in its chemistry, biological effects, and origin (kratom is a tree in the coffee family, not the opium poppy family),” the scientists wrote.

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